HALIFAX — The victims in one of Canada’s worst mass killings included an RCMP officer, a teacher, health-care workers, retirees, neighbours of the shooter and two correctional officers killed in their home.
Here is a look at the 22 lives lost on April 18-19, 2020:
Elizabeth Joanne Thomas and John Zahl
Thomas and Zahl died in Portapique, N.S., where their home was among those set on fire. Thomas was in her late 50s and was known as Joanne to friends and family. She hailed from Winnipeg and fell in love with Nova Scotia on a trip during her teenage years, her son Justin Zahl said. After raising two sons in Albuquerque, N.M., Thomas and her husband retired to their dream home in Portapique about three years ago. John Zahl, in his late 60s, was originally from Minnesota and worked for FedEx before retiring and later working as an educational assistant with special needs students. After moving to Nova Scotia, Thomas threw herself into volunteering with her local church. She had worked on charity projects providing food and laundry service for the homeless, her son said, describing her as a “living, walking angel.”
Peter and Joy Bond
Social media accounts, including by relatives and a New Brunswick church, shared sadness at the news that the Bonds, a couple who “were loved by their family, friends and community,” were among the dead. A death notice in the Halifax Chronicle Herald said Peter Bond, 74, would be remembered “for his sense of humour and his stories of the past” while his wife Joy, 70, would be remembered “for being the life of the party, her beautiful smile, her contagious laugh and her ability to always keep it together for everyone.” The retired couple lived in Portapique, N.S., and had two sons.
Campbell, 65, was killed while out for a morning stroll in Wentworth Valley, N.S. on the morning of April 19, a neighbour and fellow walker Heather Matthews said. A death notice placed by her family described her as “a true adventurer” who “lived, worked, and explored Canada from sea to sea to shining sea.” It said she was “courageous, generous, determined, quick-witted and gave the best hugs.” Campbell had one child and retired with her husband Michael Hyslop to Nova Scotia from Whitehorse in 2014, embracing her new home, garden and neighbours “with her usual vitality.”
Dawn and Frank Gulenchyn
The couple lived in the Durham region in southern Ontario before moving to Nova Scotia. Dawn worked at the Hillsdale Terraces long-term care home in Oshawa for decades before retiring in 2019. Jon Farrington, a resident of Oshawa, said his stepfather had carefully renovated the couple’s retirement home in Portapique over the past decade, while his mother continued working in order to obtain her pension, using her vacation time to travel to Portapique for time with her husband. Farrington said the couple had finally settled in together in the renovated home in the summer of 2019, and had prepared a room for family visits. They were killed on the first night of the rampage, and their home was set on fire.
Webber, 36, had gone on a family errand toward the Shubenacadie, N.S., area, about 50 kilometres northwest of Halifax, when he was killed. Coun. Steve Streatch, who lived four houses away from Webber in the rural community of Antrim, said he was “a fine young man who lived in the community of the Musquodoboit Valley, and it’s a tragic loss.” Streatch said Webber worked in the woods, often using traditional methods, and he had three young daughters. “He had a good outlook. He always had a big smile, and a lot of times that’s hard to find in people,” Streatch said.
Bagley died while “trying to help,” his daughter Charlene Bagley says. His neighbours in Wentworth, N.S., say Bagley, a military veteran and retired firefighter, was killed on April 19 as he walked toward a burning home on Hunter Road. “If you knew him, you knew that was just who he was all the time,” Charlene Bagley wrote in a Facebook post. Bagley, 70, served as a firefighter at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport from 1975 to 2006 and his military career included a stint on the aircraft carrier HMCS Bonaventure.
Ellison, 42, was remembered as a thoughtful, kind friend who went out of his way to help others. Ellison lived in Truro, N.S., but was visiting his father in Portapique when he was killed. Ashley Fennell says she was good friends with Corrie Ellison for almost a decade and described him as “a beautiful soul.” She said Ellison was on disability support because of an old injury, and he would join Fennell and her son for swimming in the summer. She added that on Christmas 2019 he offered some money for her son’s gifts.
Jolene Oliver, Aaron Tuck and Emily Tuck
The family members were neighbours of the gunman and were killed in their Portapique home. Oliver was 39 and her husband was 45. Their daughter, Emily, was 17. The family spent their early years in Calgary before moving to Nova Scotia. “No matter how much they went through in life they always stayed together, and there was times that they had nothing,” Oliver’s sister, Tammy Oliver-McCurdie, said soon after the killings. She said her sister loved working as a waitress, which she did for most of her life. “She was such a great listener.” Emily, who played the fiddle, had plans to continue her education but couldn’t decide whether to pursue art or welding, her aunt said. Tuck was described in his death notice as having a big heart and being mechanically inclined. “Aaron loved and was known in communities for fixing up cars and was also experienced in leather work,” the notice said.
Sean McLeod and Alanna Jenkins
The Wentworth, N.S., couple were correctional officers. Jenkins, 37, worked at the Nova Institution for Women in Truro and McLeod, 44, worked at the Springhill Institution for more than 20 years. “They would have done anything for anybody and they always made sure people were welcome in their home,” said McLeod’s daughter, Taylor. Bill Blair, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, issued a statement about the couple after their deaths. “They worked hard to protect their communities and the inmates under their care,” Blair said. “Alanna and Sean will be remembered for their commitment to public safety.”
Greg and Jamie Blair
The couple ran a firm that provides service, sales and installation of natural gas and propane units in the area where the shootings happened. They had two small children, and Greg Blair, 45, also had two older sons from an earlier relationship. Judy MacBurnie said her nephew was a “wonderful person who was always laughing and was the funniest person you ever met ….You couldn’t be around him too long because your face and belly hurt so bad from laughing.” Alec Gratto, the younger brother of Jamie Blair, said his 40-year-old sister was born and raised in Masstown, N.S., and married Greg in 2014. The family had a cottage in the Portapique area as the three children grew up, and her brother said his sister loved the outdoors and the beach.
The Victorian Order of Nurses said O’Brien, 55, was a licensed practical nurse and had worked with VON for nearly 17 years. O’Brien’s daughter, Darcy Dobson, posted on Facebook about her mother shortly after her death. “She was kind. She was beautiful. She didn’t deserve any of this,” Dobson wrote, pleading with friends and family not to let the shooting define her mother. “I want everyone to remember how kind she was. How much she loved being a nurse,” she wrote. Portapique resident Lucille Adams remembered O’Brien for her compassion. “She was a very loving person. She was always out there to help somebody,” she said.
Goulet, a 54-year-old Shubenacadie, N.S., resident, beat cancer — twice. Her daughter, Amelia Butler, said Goulet was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2016. Goulet was warned that her prospects didn’t look good, but she beat the odds. Goulet was diagnosed with cancer a second time late last year, and had almost fully recovered when she died. “She fought so hard for her life,” Butler said. Goulet was a denturist for 27 years and was an avid angler who would often retreat to her cottage with her two dogs to go bass fishing. Goulet was also a salsa dancer who would travel to Cuba whenever she had the chance.
Beaton, who was pregnant with her second child, had worked for the Victorian Order of Nurses for nearly six years. Her husband Nick Beaton says she cared so much for others, she sometimes forgot to take care of herself. Beaton says he and their nearly two-year-old son, Daxton, were the greatest beneficiaries of the 33-year-old’s nurturing nature. “She loved her son more than I’ve seen anyone love anything ever,” he said. She similarly doted on her clients as a continuing care assistant with the VON. She was en route to visit a client when she was killed.
McCully, 49, was a teacher at the elementary school in the community of Debert, N.S., and the mother of two children. Paul Wozney, president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, said McCully was known as a passionate teacher and “a shining love” in the lives of her friends and family. A death notice in the Halifax Chronicle Herald described McCully as a gifted teacher. “Lisa was always teaching and constantly had creative pursuits on the go, whether it was baking bread, harvesting mushrooms or playing music,” it said. “To know Lisa was to know life in full colour.”
Const. Heidi Stevenson
Stevenson, 48, had been with the RCMP for 23 years and was a mother of two. “Heidi answered the call of duty and lost her life while protecting those she served,” Nova Scotia RCMP Assistant Commissioner Lee Bergerman said. Investigators determined Stevenson’s cruiser was rammed by the gunman’s replica RCMP vehicle on the morning of April 19, near Shubenacadie, N.S., and she died following an exchange of gunfire. Stevenson graduated from Acadia University in 1993 and took on a number of roles with the force, including community policing, communications, drug recognition expert and representing the RCMP as part of the Musical Ride.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 15, 2021.
The Canadian Press
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